WASHINGTON – Republican lawmakers have asked the State Department to preserve documents and renewed a long-ignored request that the agency make 34 federal employees available to testify about last year’s chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
In a Friday letter, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken to “remind all department employees and officials of their legal responsibilities to collect, retain, and preserve documents, communications and other records” related to congressional requests for information about the withdrawal issued since Aug. 1, 2021.
“This … [is] an instruction to preserve all documents, communications and other information, including electronic information and metadata, that is or may be potentially responsive to a future Congressional inquiry, request, investigation or subpoena,” McCaul wrote. “Please note, we plan to request further documents regarding specific and troubling activities that have come to the minority’s attention.”
In the same letter, McCaul renewed prior requests for information regarding the “disastrous” evacuation “for which we have not received satisfactory responses,” including a Nov. 14, 2021 ask that the department make 34 State Department and USAID workers available for transcribed interviews about the evacuation.
“No one has yet been made available,” he said, noting it appears the request was “ignored.”
The move is the latest push by Republicans for more information and accountability for the botched bugout, during which 13 US troops died and dozens more were injured in an ISIS-K attack four days before the mission ended on Aug. 30.
While the Biden administration regularly brags about evacuating more than 122,000 from Kabul as it fell to the Taliban last fall, an August report by McCaul’s team found that hundreds of Americans and “tens of thousands” of former elite Afghan military personnel, interpreters and women leaders promised sanctuary by the US were left behind.
“One year after the last U.S. troops left Afghanistan, the Committee Minority has found the Biden administration still lacks a plan to help these at-risk Afghan allies who fought shoulder to shoulder with U.S. forces, despite the administration admitting these former battlefield allies have been subjected to killings and forced disappearances,” McCaul wrote in the August report.
The investigation included reviews of hundreds of reports and memorandums related to the evacuation, but McCaul said in his letter that the State Department has not handed over all pertinent information the committee wants to analyze.
“Access to this information is critical to the Constitutional legislative and oversight responsibilities of Congress, and it is unacceptable for such requests to be ignored or given the attention they deserve,” he said.
In the August report, the congressman called for additional analyses of the withdrawal and evacuation mission “to find complete answers as to how this happened and how to ensure something like this does not happen again.”
As his final request Friday, McCaul asked the State Department to fulfill two June requests that it provide the texts of five unclassified opening statements made by department officials during a classified Afghanistan briefing on June 15.
“I respectfully urge your prompt attention to these increasingly delinquent matters,” he said.
McCaul’s investigation and the committee’s requests of the State Department could take new importance should Republicans take over the House following the Nov. 8 midterm elections. If that happens, McCaul is expected to become the new committee’s new chairman and arrange open hearings on the withdrawal.
The committee has held one open hearing on the issue, but most have been classified and closed to the public, something McCaul and his fellow Republican members have criticized.
“We strongly believe the American people deserve to hear the significant amount of unclassified information about the relevant and important events before and after the disastrous withdrawal that was provided by the briefers,” the minority members said in a June statement following one such briefing.